BEST SERIES OR STORY ARC
THE BIG HIT PARADE REVUE OF 2004
* * * * *
In the first moments of music, we see only black.
Not the ebony velvet of a horse's hide, or the blue-black sheen of
raven's wings in flight, but the true cold obsidian glint of solid glass
- for such it is, spreading wider and wider now as we pull back and
the first reflections begin to twinkle in the vast expanse, like starlight
spangles far above.
The polished pool of a mirrored dance-floor spills almost out of sight,
like the overflow of some fathomless treacle-mine unquenched for
slow millennia. High overhead and one by one, glimpsed only in their
glimmer below, the spotlit constellations are starting to shine.
Standing a little to one side, caught now into sight as if held in a
column of light, a woman is poised, waiting. He hair is piled and
braided high at the back of her head, a few dark locks falling to the
nape of her neck, and she stands a little awkwardly, hands clasped at
her waist below the loose-fronted gown. But there is pride in every
line of her, and a deeper bloom beneath the warm colour of her
cheeks and the smile in the dark, dancing eyes. Ernestine von
Schelstein - /née/ de Roncourt, /dite/ L'Aiglonne - has never been,
can never be called a Beauty. But now, as a wife, she holds the eye
as never before.
The music changes, and L'Aiglonne begins to walk forward, gown
spilling around her as she moves with a somewhat heavy grace. The
pale folds of her dress are mirrored in the flawless glass beneath her,
and our view swoops for a moment down... and then up, following
her gaze, as she reaches out with both hands, shimmering silk falling
back from her arms, and the first dancers come down from beneath
the towering curtain to meet us.
It is impossible, now that we see it, to imagine that such a swathe of
cloth can ever *not* have existed. It occupies centre-stage, soaring
up to some unimaginable height three, or perhaps four, storeys above
us and beyond our view, a great cascade of gathered gold like a
hundred pavilions of the Arabian Nights all rolled into one.
And it is rising. The lowest folds, no longer brushing the ground,
are beginning to unveil the sweep of a spiral stair beneath. Twenty
silver-clad young men are springing up from the lowest step, moving
in perfect unison into the first lilting measures of the dance. They
flow out towards L'Aiglonne like the filigree network in the setting
for a jewel, showcasing her, surrounding her, and she laughs, and
holds out her arms to meet the steadying hands as she is lifted,
borne up, and away.
Up, and around in the wide white steps of the rising stair, as the
curtain lifts silently above. Dancers coming down to meet us, girls in
rose and cream and lilac, skirts blossoming around them as they sink
to the ground, and men in silver and palest blue. It is a great tide that
sweeps downwards only to eddy and carry us up, filling the stairs as
the music soars ahead.
And we are *still* rising. Another turn, and yet another. Girls like
flowers, golden-tressed and dark and red - surely there cannot be so
many dancers in all the world? A tumbling waterfall of blue and
silver like a brook through the meadows, as their partners spring
from hands to feet with casual, prodigal grace among the crowd.
This surely must be the last turning. We are pulling back - back,
until we can barely see L'Aiglonne, her laughter the dark warmth at
the heart of what has become a staggering spectacle, the veiling
curtain risen almost out of sight, and beneath it rank after rank of
dancers, sunk down now among a billow of skirts from the girls. All
eyes and arms are reaching upwards as somewhere, backed by this
vast choir, an elegant but eloquent tenor is singing that music would
open his eyes, showing the skies golden with rapture...
Golden? Yes. With rapture? Perhaps... for we are now looking almost
directly upwards, past tier after tier of silken limbs and soaring
song, to the huge unfurling canopy of the pavilion folds above,
where once the far lights twinkled. The shining cloths of heaven
have covered the vault in truth; and the sheer scale of it all is
enough to batter any remaining killjoys into helpless, joyous wonder.
There is only one discordant note, as our view begins to sweep in at
last to crown the topmost tier. Two young voices, in aggrieved
whispers: more audible perhaps than they realise as the choir sinks
to its final anticipatory hush, and the soloist holds his high note on
a pianissimo with almost seamless skill.
"Well, I think it was a mean trick to send us now, when /Tantchen/
Tine can't possibly have any adventures -"
"Oh come on, you silly, you know that wasn't going to happen -"
"'When the Count's own lady invites you' - it was a promise, I tell
you! Just because no-one thought Danik would ever take a bride,
and then he *did*, that very same year -"
"And we're here, aren't we? D'you think we'd ever have got to come
in a million years if it hadn't been for that promise?"
"I thought it was going to be exciting." The whisper is sullen. "With
Tine sailing as bo's'n, and gun-battles, and apes and ivory -"
"You're standing on top of the biggest wedding-cake in the world,
and you think this is *boring*?" Enough scorn to cut through
canvas. "You think -"
But any further scope for thought is cut off by a squeak of
consternation. "We're on - Linde, we're on!"
And so they are.
Revealed at last - as the music swings into a new, jaunty tune and
their 'Tantchen' Ernestine, the vanguard of her entourage, and our
own viewpoint arrive simultaneously on the open ring that is the
hidden crest of the staircase - are Hilde and Linde Osman, neat as
two pins, in twin sailor suits. With dark curls tied back and hastily-
composed faces, they make grave bows to right and left of what
they clearly regard as a grand theatrical stage, turn to face one
another and perform a final grave courtesy that is somehow more
reminiscent of an opponents' salute before a duel... and then, as the
music suddenly speeds up a hundred-fold, launch into a wildly
energetic leaping and stomping dance. L'Aiglonne, watching, with
a smile, is not the first to begin to clap out the rhythm; but she is
soon leading the intricate patterns of the beat as the two young
figures at the centre of the circle whirl and jump.
If it's not, in fact, an Addams-esque /Mamoushka/ they are
performing, then it must be some even wilder and more authentic
Transsylvanian cousin. They have to have been practising this for
weeks... or perhaps for years, for surely one has to be born to it to
achieve such feats. Perfectly matched as perhaps only twins can
ever be, Hilde and Linde never miss a step, a toss or even a dagger-
blade. Only their grins shine brighter than the naked steel they have
somehow contrived to produce: and if Hilde really feels, as she has
whispered, that this is not exciting enough for her, then she is doing
an incredibly good job of concealing it.
The two girls from the remote mountain village are the centre of all
attention - even as we pull back and upward until sweep after sweep
of staircase surrounds them, and then, finally, seen from above, the
great sea of depthless black. They are only twin flicker-points of
light now, flashing swiftly back from the blades as they spin over
and over at the heart of it... and then the blackness flows smoothly
in as the picture narrows above them, like grains of sand, and last of
all they are gone.
"And the winners?"
Linde sounds a little breathless when we find her again, sitting with
her cheek leaned up against the side of the gilded chair in which
L'Aiglonne is enthroned, with Hilde curled up at the other side and
the two of them like a pair of impish Cupids framing an ornate
carriage-clock. But they are alone together now, seated on what is
no more than a simple wooden stage, the plain of glass and the
towering stair having vanished out of sight like no more than the
twinkle in some future Busby Berkeley's eye.
"And the winners we are to announce, /Tantchen/ Tine?" Hilde
L'Aiglonne smiles again at the prompt, and rises to her feet,
steadying herself a little clumsily on the arms of the chair. The girls
scramble up in turn, a couple of eager terrier pups watching and
waiting for the moment when they will be unleashed.
"The contest was for the best Series or Story Arc," L'Aiglonne
states for the benefit of the audience. She has barely raised her
voice, but it is trained to carry, and every word has suddenly
become clear as a bell.
"I can say now that there were only four prizes, for third place was
taken in an even match by Brad Willis -" here she enunciates
carefully - "and Helen Fayle, for their drabble sequences 'Spring
Surprise', where the Doctor is turned into a woman and kidnapped
by sky pirates -" one arched dark eyebrow has begun to edge
incredulously upwards just a *little* at this point, in a gesture of
Danik's which is evidently more catching than she has yet realised -
"and 'Sympathy for the Devil', where Sarah-Jane arrives at a new
kind of peace with the Master."
A 'Hmph' is heard at this point from the audience, but it is unclear
whether it is directed at the author of this inaccurate plot summary
or at the antics of the twins, who have sprung into action. Between
them they are simultaneously miming Japanese sky-pirates,
Lo-Shon's pursuit of a reluctant male Nyssa, Sarah-Jane trying to
appear indignant, and a long-nosed and rather mischievous-looking
nemesis. The last of these impressions is a particularly good one
and draws appreciative chuckles from the several incarnations of
the Master present tonight.
"The fourth of the prizes," L'Aiglonne is continuing as the sound
from the audience dies down, "is awarded to Paul Gadzikowski -" this
one she pronounces fluently Slavic-fashion - "for his latest Peri Arc,
in which Peri Brown embarks on a quest to find her father, and after
deeds of much daring saves the world."
No-one in the audience, including Paul, is quite certain whether the
lady has actually been made aware of the crossover/satire elements
of the arc in question, or whether she really is taking it at face value.
Frankly - given the way the twins are going at it hammer and tongs,
having chosen (unsurprisingly) to act out Peri and Taliesin's duel,
including the part where the villain trips over a judiciously-placed
knight on hands and knees behind him - none of them, including the
author, could really have cared less.
"Second place -" L'Aiglonne breaks off for a moment, as Hilde,
having executed a somewhat over-enthusiastic imitation of Taliesin
knocking himself cold, sits up rather cautiously, one hand probing
the dark curls for damage. Linde, running an expert hand over the
back of her sister's head, shrugs in reassurance and mouths: "Go
"Second place was taken by Imran Inayat, for his tales of school-
children of all races and their woes," L'Aiglonne continues smoothly
enough, not without a second concerned look in Hilde's direction.
But she is cut off by roars of laughter from the more unrestrained
portion of the audience, closely followed by helplessly-escaping
giggles from most of the rest. The twins' portrayal of an adolescent
Kari eyeing a succubus - headache or no headache on said
'succubus's' part - is wickedly accurate, as is their execution of
the infamous 'wedgie'.
Their preceptress, perhaps wisely, keeps her gaze strictly ahead and
preserves her grave demeanour, though she is one of the few to
succeed in doing so. "The winner," she concludes without even a
tremor, "is once again Helen Fayle, for her 'Books of Taliesin', a
project spanning novels, genres, and Time itself."
And as her bloodthirsty charges prepare to mime the onslaught of
the /furor/, L'Aiglonne contrives to produce a small silver cup from
the loose folds of her gown, the handles of which are a wolf's head
on one side and a dragon's head on the other, and steps down into
the audience to hand it to Helen in person. She bestows a murmured
word of congratulation which that shrewd lady, who has been
observing her closely, takes this opportunity to return.
Danik's wife flushes a little and sinks down, with a sigh of relief,
into an empty place beside Paul Andinach, who has also been
watching her for some time as if he wanted to say something. She
gives him a lovely smile; but, for the moment, they are both taken
up in watching the irrepressible twins make their exit with true
showman's instinct, Linde in a series of flip-flaps and handsprings,
and her sister, perhaps in deference to an aching head, engaging in
nothing more strenuous than a series of cartwheels in her wake.
BEST 'DOCTOR WHO' CHARACTER
CLASH OF THE BARBARIAN BEASTMASTERS
[Scene, a generic city is burning in the background, in the
foreground various people are milling around including Amazons in
chain bikinis, somewhere someone is saying dialogue that is
overblown and makes little sense, in other words a typical
Hollywood fantasy film.]
[Magnus steps into the foreground, casually beheading an extra who
gets too close.]
Magnus "Well, here we are again for yet another Adrics presentation.
This time we are doing Best 'Doctor Who' Character. That seems
[A large creature looking like a cross between a horse and a tiger
enters stage left.]
Varne "I was picking up some extra money doing a few monster roles.
Just a minute."
[The creature shimmers and reforms as the familiar redhead.]
Varne "Of course it is familiar; we did that last year. This script
sucks, by the way. The evil overlord gets done in by something that
is not mentioned until the last five minutes. If I were writing this, I
would have tried for some foreshadowing. "
Magnus "How can you foreshadow somebody who dissolves in
Varne "Baum did it better."
Magnus "True, but I suppose we had better get on with this."
[He gestures and a cinema screen materialises.]
Varne "Right. We are here to present the Best 'Doctor Who'
Characters of 2003. The nominees are..."
Magnus "Adric from 'TTR: Dark Carnival';
Roz Forrester from 'TTR: Golden Agers', by Daibhid
Sarah Jane Smith from the'Sympathy for the Devil' series,
by Helen Fayle;
Sarah Jane Smith from 'TDTO: She Talks to Rainbows', by
The Master from the 'Sympathy for the Devil' series, by
Varne "Have we any clips?"
Magnus "I think we can manage something. Let me see... Ah,
With a wild cry, the boy stumbled toward the slouching apparition,
feeling rather than seeing the Hounds drop back into the deeper
"Hey!" he called out, waving as he ran. "Hey, you there! Am I
glad to see you! Hey! Over here!"
The man gave no sign that he'd heard, eyes still fixed glassily on
the hazy tracklessness before him.
Adric panted to a stop at the old man's side, out of breath and
dry-mouthed from the dust. And still the man didn't move, but
kept staring cross-legged into the middle distance, only the
intermittent rise and fall of his breaths under his dusty rags giving
any indication that he was even alive.
"Hey," Adric tried, nudging the man's shoulder. "Excuse me,
Varne "I've got the idea now. Roz..."
As they passed, the Matron came out of the room saying, in a
blatantly automatic manner, "Yes, very interesting, dear." Looking
past the tour group, she called out, "Miss Forrester! Roslyn!" A
dignified-looking woman at the end of the corridor, whose light grey
hair contrasted sharply with her dark skin, made a great show of not
having heard anything. "Roslyn, dear!" the Matron continued,
catching up with her. "You've forgotten your stick, now haven't
The elder Roz snapped, "I haven't forgotten my stick. I've chosen to
leave my blasted stick. And if you call me Roslyn once more I'll stick
my stick where you'd rather I didn't stick it!"
Magnus "Next we have good old Sarah Jane in two different stories."
Varne "That's stretching thing a bit. Still, we have the 'Sympathy for
the Devil' clip somewhere..."
You still struggle against what you feel,' he said. Lying there.
Close. Not touching.
'Because I can't justify sympathy for the devil.'
'And yet...' His voice was mocking, the eyes not.
...an archangel ruin'd...
And it was to the windows of the soul, not the words, that I listened.
Searching for signs, praying for traces of a conscience in residence.
Hope. The last thing shut inside Pandora's box.
Magnus "And I have the 'She Talks to Rainbows' sequence."
"Oh, you must be the help he told me he'd send!" The wild
journalistic fervor faded from the girl's eyes, which were
nonetheless keen and sharp as tacks. "Thanks for dropping in. I'm
Sarah Jane Smith, editor-at-large for the _Wells Register_. The big
dope with paper-breath is Harry Sullivan, our sports reporter, and
that's our resident tech-head Melanie Bush there at the Production
Magnus "I don't think we will bother with a separate clip for the
Master; after all he has already featured in 'Sympathy for the Devil'
and events seem to be catching up with us."
[Indeed. A large number of fugitives from the city are getting
uncomfortably close. Delay could have ruined the shot.]
Varne "Well, I have the results. Here they are...."
Magnus "We don't have time for suspense. If we ruin the wrap, we
won't get paid."
Varne "OK! The winner is... the Master from Helen Fayle's 'Sympathy
for the Devil' series! Followed by Sarah Jane Smith from 'She Talks
to Rainbows in Second, Adric and Roz tied for Third, and Sarah Jane
from 'Sympathy for the Devil' in Fifth!"
Magnus "I really will have to grow a beard... Anyway, we now return
you to your regularly-scheduled program."
[With a stink of sulphurous smoke, the pair vanishes.]